By Fredrick Obura

The Government is ditching proprietary software in favour of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS)  alternatives . The move it hopes will save it money.

FOSS is computer software that is not privately protected under copyright and it is free to use, alter and  share although not necessarily free from all costs to the user.

Katherine Getao, the ICT Secretary at the directorate of e-government, Office of the President (pictured) says it costs the State agency more than Sh237 million a year to acquire and upgrade copyrighted software.

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 “We expect the savings to be huge on implementation; the difference should be used to take IT to rural areas.” At present, most government databases and computer platforms use proprietary software provided by vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco but which it says is more costly compared to FOSS.  “The government is considering possibilities of migrating its database and other computer operations to free and open software,” said  the Office of the President e-government director.

“We are doing away with copyrighted software for Free Open Source Software  as we seek to cut expenditure on IT,” she added.

Internal discussions

She said discussions are on going with various state agencies with a view of establishing the feasibility of the proposed software.

Among the prioritised State agency databases that will be shifted to open-source alternatives in the first phase are those of the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Central Bank of Kenya, Kenya Power, ministry of Finance, National Registration Bureau and the Integrated Population register. These among other State agencies rely on an expensive model of data storage and management.

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The migration from proprietary systems will see related costs go down by 20 per cent, and about 80 per cent within three years of the move.

“ Probably in three years we could be saving like 80 per cent of what we are spending now on proprietary software,” Getao told reporters during the’ Software Freedom Day’ in Nairobi recently.

The State’s move, if implemented, would see a shift from copyrighted to non-copyrighted software in the next three years.

But Global IT companies have opted to remain quiet despite the Government’s major announcement last week that might see some lose lucrative business in various government agencies. Oracle, Microsoft, and a few others are in the proprietorial software business and likely to be affected by the move.

Inquiry on the implications of the move on revenue by the two firms went unanswered.

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The communication departments promised to get back once they certify information from their legal and technical teams interpreting effects of the announcement.

“Government is a big body, a part from other establishments we do business with, government forms part of our business revenue,” said Microsoft Communication Manager, East and Southern Africa Lavinniah Muthoni.

“Our legal team is currently interpreting the implication of it to our business and we are soon going to give remarks on it,” she said.

Similar response was from Oracle communication department.  The company through its spokesperson Claire Alexander said the technical team was working on an interpretation to the new move. In an interview, Free and Open Source Software Council members welcomed the new shift terming it pro-development to the country’s ICT landscape.

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“We hope the copyright companies will not persuade the Government to back its move. Free and open source software would open up innovation in the country,” said Alex Gakuru,Free and Open Source Software for Africa council member,   a lobby group championing for the adoption of non-copyright software in Africa.

Gakuru said the biggest obstacle to the spread of IT access in the country has been the exorbitant cost of software.   “There is a big danger in keeping data in proprietary software,” said Evans Ikua, chairman, Linux Professional Association of Kenya. Ikua, however, lamented lack of human capacity in Kenya and other African countries on the use of FOSS. “We intend to build capacity for free and open source software.

 We are currently training trainers in Universities and in the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises  sector on implementation of this new model,” he said.

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